Viewpoint: Richard Dodd, head of media and campaigns, BRC

Many of our high streets are in trouble, that’s certainly true. Our footfall and vacancies monitor shows that at the moment 1 in 9 high street stores are empty and this is higher in some parts of the UK than others. The worst is in Ireland where it is 1 in 5.

Richard Dodd

Those figures have been worryingly high for a long time. Customers have been reigning in their spending, which is compounding what have been some long-standing difficulties in many town centres.

It’s true that our high streets need to evolve and develop in order to secure their futures but they need help to do that, it won’t happen of its own accord. It won’t be the same in every case and it will often mean that buildings that have been shops in the past won’t be in the future.

We need to secure alternative use for them because that maintains an economic contribution to those communities in terms of jobs and services. There will be some shops that are better off converted to residential use. The worst thing is to leave them as boarded-up buildings blighting those neighbourhoods and making it difficult for businesses in the area trying to battle on.

It’s also the cost of doing business, especially business rates, which have gone up significantly in the past two years and another due this April. There is also the issue of parking, access and not investing in town centres often enough over a period of years – failing to make them into safe and attractive places that people want to go to.

Our high streets need to evolve and need help, and we are still pushing central government for a business rates freeze.

If the rise goes ahead, it stands to cost the Government more because it might not get the extra revenue it planned for. We are not asking for a handout, we are just asking for recognition that retail has already made a big contribution over the past two years. Asking for even more, through increased business rates, will only impose more damage.

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